There are two kinds of impressive people in the world.
The first kind is the experts. The experts are the people who’ve already run the race, probably a few times. They know their way around their craft. They know lots of smart people who’ve also done it before, and they can combine their experience and mistakes from the past with their accumulated knowledge to walk confidently into formidable challenges.
Experts are great to know and have by your side, but chances are, because they’ve been in the game for so long, their world is crowded, and everyone else around you is also trying to play a game with them on the same team.
The second kind of impressive people is the sprinters.
From a distance, the sprinters look no different than every other beginner trying to figure out what they’re doing. They’re just getting started on their craft and making the same mistakes as everyone else, looking for the same kinds of help as everyone else. But the sprinters’ superpower is that they grow and learn faster than everyone else, and if you stand and run right next to them, you can tell the sprinters apart from the regular old runners in the race because every time you look, they’ll be running faster than the last time you saw them.
Sprinters are people who grow and improve at what they do exponentially, because they use every new project and experience and mistake as a way to improve at the next one. They really just care about figuring out what they want to work on, and then spend all their time getting better at that thing. The sprinters’ secret is that getting ahead is just the side effect – the real game they’re playing is just getting better at every step, running every meter a little faster than the last time. And they do it consistently, for longer than everyone else.
If you find yourself lucky enough to be running alongside a sprinter, make a bet on them, because they’ll be the experts of the next generation, leading the group from way up front and showing everyone else the way.
Sprinters don’t have the crowded following or impressive pedigree yet, and there are a lot of things they need help with. You make a bet on them by helping them out right here, when they’re early at the start of their race and invisible from a distance. What might be just a quick conversation or a run-of-the-mill introduction or a weekend collaboration for you could be the thing that helps them take their first big step. And if you’re there believing in their potential before everyone else, trust me, they’ll remember you better than anyone else who joins them later in their ascent.
You can try to find the experts of your space today and get in their network, but the experts will already have their MVPs – their MVPs are the people who helped them out when they were just sprinting for themselves at the start of their race.
So find the sprinters around you, and help them out and work together before anyone else notices them. You might not get the rush of standing next to titans of industry or the big, famous names in your field today, but if you’re patient enough to grow and learn alongside them for a few years, you’ll find yourself surrounded by the people everyone else now wants to be around.
This is how you build a truly valuable personal network – not just by knowing the people who are already successful, but more importantly, by helping the right people before anybody else will.
As a corollary to this idea, if you’re young or trying to break into a new field, and you don’t have nearly the credentials or experience to tout in your story, don’t lean on your average credentials and experience and try to stretch them out. Lean on how quickly you can learn and grow. The right people will notice you, and they’ll make a bet on you before anyone else. When you meet those people, work with them. I’ve both experienced firsthand and heard from others that following this advice – working with the people who bet on you – is more valuable than simply working at the right company with the right brand name on the right project.
Building relationship that matter is a long-term game. And like any other long game, your rate of growth dwarfs any significance that the starting line has in the beginning. If you know this, you can make better bets than the people who haven’t figured this out yet, in many things that matter in the long term – equity, people, and your own opportunities. And fortunately for us, in this case, the right bets also lead to the most interesting and exciting stories in the future.
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